Has Ukraine committed a war crime?  Russians furious after video surfaced, UN also starts investigation
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Images have been circulating on Russian social media for several days showing how eleven Russian soldiers are captured by at least four Ukrainians. In fragments you can see how Ukrainian soldiers film themselves while they recapture a city from the Russians.

The allegations are about a specific sequence of fragments involving their breaking into a Russian hideout. There, the Russian soldiers are forced to lie down on the ground in a row. They are unarmed, and they obey. The cutscene ends abruptly when a Russian gunman shoots at the Ukrainian soldiers. When the video resumes, the Russian who opened fire can be seen lying dead where he first stood. The row of Russian soldiers lies lifeless in pools of blood. The images give the impression that they were shot at close range in the head and upper body.

The American newspaper The New York Times scrutinized the footage and confirmed its authenticity. According to their research, the footage was shot in mid-November on a destroyed farm in the village of Makiivka, in the west of the annexed Luhansk Oblast. Because music has been edited to some of the images, the newspaper suspects that the images are part of a video diary of a Ukrainian soldier. A drone was used for some shots.

The images first surfaced in pro-Ukrainian chat channels on Telegram. In it, images are distributed to boost Ukrainian morale. Among other things, diaries of soldiers who liberate Ukrainian cities are doing particularly well. But unsavory images of the liberation of Makiivka had also caught the attention of the Russians in the group.

“West ignores Ukrainian crimes”

“The shocking images are new evidence of the crimes committed by Ukrainian neo-Nazis,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. It again accuses Ukraine of war crimes. Since the soldiers could no longer defend themselves and clearly indicated that they were surrendering, the Russians ostensibly fulfilled the legal definition of prisoners of war. International law prohibits the execution of such prisoners of war.

“The West is ignoring Ukraine’s crimes and supporting a regime in Kiev that is essentially criminal,” Russia says. The images were also widely discussed in Russian talk shows on Friday evening. “Ukraine is never accused of war crimes because they kill Russians,” said Kremlin-faithful political scientist Vladimir Kornilov.

The Russian hawks also made themselves heard. “Satan’s henchmen did not all commit a crime. They filmed it and posted it on the net,” Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov told Telegram. He pleads for swift retaliation. For Dmitry Medvedev, Vice President of the National Security Council, the Ukrainian soldiers involved deserve the death penalty.

Research

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated on Monday that they want to track down and bring the perpetrators to justice. Moscow therefore calls for an international and independent investigation. The United Nations says it is aware of the videos and promises such an investigation.

Whether that research will be in favor of the Russians is by no means certain. Iva Vukusic, expert in the law of war at the University of Utrecht, says so The New York Times that the footage does not provide sufficient evidence to speak of a war crime. “Were the shooter and the other soldiers killed at once? Was there another threat that was not on the screen? Or is it an act of revenge?” she wonders. “In the latter case, it would be a war crime,” she explains. She also does not rule out that the Russians feigned surrender in order to ambush Ukrainian soldiers. “In that case, the Russians could even be convicted of a war crime.” The latter hypothesis is also the official response from Kiev.

Previous investigations by the United Nations have already found that both sides are guilty of war crimes. Although that is ‘on a smaller scale’ with Ukraine than with the Russians. If Ukraine wants to prove that it is fighting ‘properly’ in this case, it has every interest in transparently cooperating with the investigation.

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